The woman over the road is painting her front door green. I just happen to be standing at the window in my front bedroom scanning the Avenue through my binoculars, part of my neighbourhood watch duties, and there she is, bold as brass, painting away at eight thirty in the morning. Why, I ask myself? What is she doing? And green of all colours. What was wrong with the previous colour? All our front doors are brown or dark-blue. Green’s going to lower the tone of the Avenue.
They only moved in a few weeks ago. What are they doing painting the front door already, before they’ve had a chance to get to know the area? They should have waited until after they’ve been invited to the Residents Association.
I’ve heard some things about her. Not that I listen to or spread rumours of course, not like some people around here. But her next door neighbour, Mrs Watkins-Ralston, was talking to Mrs Chapwin from number 26 the other day in the fresh-farm-produce greengrocer’s; they have such high-quality products there. I just happened to overhear her say that there’d been some strange noises coming from that house. Mrs Chapwin asked her what she meant by ‘strange noises’, and Mrs Watkins-Ralston said it sounded like someone banging a tambourine. Perhaps they are members of the Salvation Army. I do hope not: all those tramps and dirty people.
I’m a light sleeper and sometimes I’ve woken up at six in the morning and just happened to look out of the window. I’ve seen him going out. What type of job does he have? He doesn’t carry a briefcase. I mean, that can’t be right, can it, going out in the middle of the night. It is certainly not the sort of thing we are used to in the Avenue.
And now the wife of the new owner of the Mulfort’s house is painting the front door green. I must speak to Mrs Watkins-Ralston, but I’ll wait half an hour until the respectable time of nine o’clock.
“Good morning, Cynthia Parkinson here.”
“Good morning Mrs Parkinson.”
“I was just wondering Mrs Watkins-Ralston if you have looked out of your window this morning and observed what is happening next door?”
“I have indeed. Mr Watkins-Ralston left for his office in a most unhappy frame of mind.”
“I can imagine.”
“He is going to telephone Mr Chapwin and suggest a meeting of the Residents Association tonight. Will you and Mr Parkinson be able to be there?”
“We most certainly will.”
Harold, my husband, and I are already seated at the Chapwin’s large dining table when I see the Blackburns, the other newcomers in the Avenue, arrive. I tell Harold to move along one chair so I can sit between the Blackburns and explain who everyone is: this is their first Residents Association meeting.
“Good evening Mr Blackburn, Mrs Blackburn. I’m Mrs Parkinson”
“Please call me Bill.”
I swallow and force a smile. “William and Margaret. This is my husband Mr Parkinson.”
“I’d like to call this meeting to order, at … nine … thirty-two pm.”
I keep my voice low and speak in the direction of Mr Blackburn. “That’s Mr Chapwin, of Chapwin and Braintree, Chartered Accountants. He’s the chairman of the Association.”
“Duly noted in the minutes Mr Chairman.”
“Mr Watkins-Ralston, also an accountant, and, although a senior partner, not with his own business.”
“I’d like to welcome Mr and Mrs Blackburn to their first Residents Association meeting.”
“This extraordinary meeting is to discuss the new residents in the Mulfort’s house. We did not invite them tonight because I think there are some things we, as an Association, need to discuss first.”
“Who would like to start?”
“They’re much too young to be able to afford a house in the Avenue.”
“Mrs Watkins-Ralston, ex-matron, and next door neighbour of the new people.”
“What is that car they have? It’s not a make I recognise. I’d have run it through the computer if I’d still been with the force. Looks foreign”
“Chief Superintendent Baker, Metropolitan Police, retired.
“They’re not English you know.”
“Not English! How do you know Mrs Watkins-Ralston?”
“Mrs Chapwin, our hostess for tonight. We take it in turns. I’m looking forward to seeing the inside of your house.”
“But if they’re not English what are they doing in the Avenue?” I ask.
“I say, jolly interesting having someone different here, what. What do you think they are Mrs Watkins-Ralston?”
“That’s Mrs Baker.”
“I don’t think, Mrs Baker, I know. They’re Polish.”
“You sound jolly sure.”
“The eyes. In nursing you learn to tell a lot from people’s eyes. And the postman left a package for them with me. It was addressed to Dr Wondsinski. That’s Polish isn’t it?”
“Knew some Polish chaps during the war.”
“Colonel Langford, Coldstream Guards, retired, widower, usually goes to sleep at these meetings, has a heart condition.”
“Fine fellows, a bit shifty, but fine fellows.”
“If he’s Polish, he’s probably a plumber.” Mr Blackburn starts to laugh, but no one else sees the joke.
Mr Watkins-Ralston looks up from his minutes. “Did you say you spoke to him, my dear?”
“No, I didn’t want to make first contact like that. I left the parcel on the doorstep just before the time I knew he usually arrives home.”
“Did you say Dr Wondsinski?” I ask.
Mrs Watkins-Ralton’s look says ‘weren’t you listening’. “That’s what it said on the parcel.”
“Do you think he’s a medical doctor?”
“Mrs Thomas, wife of the headmaster of the local school. I think that’s the first thing she’s said at one of these meetings.”
“Doesn’t look like a doctor and as matron I’ve worked with a few.”
“Poland’s always been like Italy, anybody who’s been near a university is called ‘doctor’.”
“My husband knows about these things, he’s professor of history of the Outer Hebrides at the University. He appeared on Mastermind once, but got some very unfair questions.”
“I wonder if she’s Polish also. She looks very gypsyish to me.”
I wouldn’t have expected Mrs Blackburn to speak at her first meeting. I don’t think she should judge people by how they look.
“Could be, married to a Pole, they come across the border from Romania,”
“That’s Mr Thomas the headmaster.”
“I didn’t think Poland had a border with Romania.”
Mr Thomas looked at Mr Blackburn over the top of his half-moon glasses. “Oh yes, it does. I taught geography.”
“Well as long as she doesn’t go round door-to-door selling clothes pegs.” I say.
Mr Blackburn starts to laugh again, and then realises I am serious.
“She’d need a licence for that. I know, we used to issue them at the Met.”
Mr Chapwin rises. “The question is what are we going to do about them. This painting the front door green is, in my opinion, only the start of a whole lot of trouble.”
There are nods around the table, and individual conversations break out. Mr Chapwin moves round behind the people seated pouring wine from the Waterford-crystal decanter. Mrs Chapwin encourages people to help themselves to the delicate little sandwiches she always prepares. They are nice, but everyone prefers my canapés and vol-au-vents.
“I move that we send a delegation from this Association to talk to this Walondsanski fellow.”
“Thank you Colonel Langford.”
“But what will you say to him?”
There are looks of surprise, if not shock, around the table. Mr Blackburn has only spoken three times and two of those have questioned what someone has said.
“As Chairman of the Residents Association I will point out to him that we have certain standards here in the Avenue, and green front doors do not fit in with those standards.”
“Nobody gave us a set of rules when we arrived.”
“You are different Mr Blackburn, you are not a foreigner.”
“I’m from the north of England.”
“Yes, indeed, but you still wouldn’t paint your front door green.”
“Now it’s funny you should say that, because I was thinking only the other day …” He winces as his wife’s elbow collides with his arm.
“So, all those in favour of the Colonel’s motion, please raise your hands.” Mr Chapwin looks around the table. “Those against? Abstentions? Let the minutes show that the motion was carried with only Mr Blackburn against, and Mrs Blackburn abstaining.”
“After you Mrs Parkinson.”
“Thank you Colonel.” I lead the way up the path to the green door. I am not totally comfortable with being part of the delegation, but it was decided there should be one lady accompanying Mr Chapwin and the Colonel. Mrs Watkins-Ralston put herself forward, of course, but as she is the next door neighbour, and perhaps too close to the situation, I was asked to take on the role. I couldn’t have imagined any of the other ladies volunteering in any case.
We’ve almost reached that horrible door when the Colonel suddenly clutches his chest and falls to the floor.
Mr Chapwin freezes.
The green door opens and a man rushes out. He bends down beside the Colonel and starts pushing on his chest. He continues this until the ambulance arrives.
“On behalf of the Association I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Dr and Mrs Wondsinski to this meeting. I know I speak for all the residents of the Avenue when I say how much we appreciate what you did for Colonel Langford. Without your swift action he would have almost certainly died.”
“We agreed at our last meeting that we thought you were both going to be very welcome additions to the Avenue. We are impressed by the way you had already quickly taken steps to brighten up the Mulfort’s dull house by painting the front door green. Our little delegation was on its way to convey this message to you when this unfortunate incident happened. It is some considerable comfort to us all to know we have a doctor in the Avenue.”
“Thank you Mr Chafwin, but not a doctor medical, PhD architect. How you call it, CPR yes, come from army training. No job for architect in Poland. So I sell my business, learn new job and come to your country. I am plumber now.”